Discover Beaches and Rainforest in Byron Bay Via the Coastal Walking Trail

While in Byron Bay, visiting the Cape Byron Lighthouse is a must. Of course you can drive up, but I chose to walk the Cape Byron Walking Track. A scenic 2.2 mile loop that takes you through rainforest, beach, grassland, and clifftops to the lighthouse.


I began my trek from Belongil Beach about a 2 mile walk before reaching the start of the walking track. Coming out on Bay Street, I just followed the path along Main Beach and picked up the walking track at Clarkes Beach. 

The first part of the walk took me along Lighthouse Road through Palm Valley and past The Pass – a popular spot with surfers. After ascending into the forest, I came down to the affluent neighborhood of Wategos Beach. A beautiful little nook of beach, I stopped here for a rest and to cool off with a little swim. Wategos Beach is home to dolphins year round, but I wasn’t lucky enough to spot any during my stop.


About an hour later, I packed up and tackled the steepest portion of the walk up the steps to the most eastern point of mainland Australia. When I say steep steps I am not kidding, and there a lot of them. I was quite winded and reminded that I definitely need to add some hills to my workouts! 


This point is definitely a photo-op moment with views all the way down the bay coast. Jutting out from the edge of the cliff, the wind picks up and provides a nice reprieve from the cloudless 85 degree heat. 

There’s just one more incline and then a final set of stairs to reach the Cape Byron Lighthouse. Once at the top, I took the opportunity to enjoy the view of the bay and the surrounding bushland to the south. There’s a nice little cafe offering light snacks and beverages – cash only with no ATM so don’t forget your money. 


I had read about an alternative track down through the bush – Tallow Ridge Track – that takes you through the rainforest. I wasn’t too sure how well marked it was and didn’t see anyone else taking it, so I opted on the side of caution and retraced my steps back down. 

I did take a short loop through Palm Valley at The Pass with only some lizards as my fellow walking companions. The vegetation was so lush on the path, I was sure I was going the wrong way and was heading deep into the forest, but as noted at the start I was only a hundred meters from the park. Now I didn’t feel so bad about forgoing the Tallow Ridge Track.


It’s suggested to give yourself two hours for the walk. I knew I wanted to make a day of it and stop off at a couple of the beaches. That said I got to the start of the walking track about eleven in the morning and was back in town at four in the afternoon. If you’re in a rush, you could do it in an hour, but where’s the fun in that?!

Take your time and enjoy the amazingness of being able to walk along beaches and into the rainforest moments later. No where else except Byron Bay.

Broken windows,spotty wifi, and kangaroos

After spending three days in a tent, I was looking forward to staying in an apartment in Brisbane. My initial introduction got off to a bit of a rough start. Upon arriving at my Airbnb, I found the Air-conditioning not working, so I went to open the windows. Two window panes were busted out with only a curtain covering them. The door to the balcony didn’t fully close and that window was busted with a piece of plywood covering the opening. Oh, and the wifi was actually borrowed from the neighboring shop and spotty at best. So… I decided to go to a hotel in the city.

My host got back to me a couple days later and was very thorough in his explanation of each issue (all known), how it’s not a hotel, and no one else had problems with them. I kind of felt like an ass for a minute and then thought, no, advertise what you have and no matter the cost of the room all windows should be intact. So no refund, but as they say in Australia ‘no worries’! 

I did meet a super nice American working the front desk at the hotel – Royal on the Park. We were both excited to chat with someone from home, and about something other than Donald Trump. Everything worked out for the best, as I realized how much I missed the amenities of an actual hotel (not motel, apartment or tent) – location, minibar, room cleaned everyday. Well worth the cost!


With museums, restaurants, gardens, and a man-made beach on the Southbank, I most excited to visit Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Only 12km outside Brisbane in the suburb Fig Tree Pocket, it is the oldest and largest Koala sanctuary in the world. 

In addition to the 130 koalas at the sanctuary, you can find kangaroos, tasmanian devils, dangos, wombats, reptiles, birds, and many more animal species. The animals are brought to the sanctuary to live and be protected for the rest of their lives. Not sold, bought, traded or used in animal testing, the goal is to allow the animals to behave as naturally as possible in a protective environment. From what I could see the animals are given plenty of space and the staff does seem genuinely invested in the animals’ best interests.

By far the highlight was not only seeing animals completely foreign to the States, but actually interacting with some of them. I was able to hold a koala – so soft and calm. It was like holding a furry baby. 

 

The kangaroo feeding area allowed more extensive interaction. Walking among the kangaroos and birds, you were allowed to feed and sit and pet the them. I spent about a half-hour petting and walking among them. They seemed almost indifferent to the people, making it easy to forget these were kangaroos! 


It’s funny, most of Australia doesn’t seem all that different from the States until you think about the animals native to Australia. Being at Lone Pine reminded me of the vast differences in animals throughout the world, and that I was on the other side of the planet!

No Cell Phones Allowed: Escape to Lady Elliot Island

The thirteen seater plane, circled before landing on Lady Elliot  Island, the most southern island in the Great Barrier Reef. An eco-resort that takes its environmental education programs as serious as its snorkeling and diving, LEI is a sanctuary from modern technology. No cell phones, no wifi, no television in the rooms. LEI gives us an excuse to turn off all the unnecessary noise we let into our lives but really do not need. 


I came prepared with a book and bathing suit and figured if I started going through tech-withdrawal, it was only three days. Immediately after collecting my complimentary snorkeling gear and making my way to the lagoon for a solo snorkel, I wished I could stay forever. The lagoon was the most translucent blue I had seen with the coral visible just below the surface. With my head under water, all I could hear was the rhythmic sounds of my long slow breathes. Listening to my breathing and watching the coral life below, I let myself float where the current took me. I had snorkeled with turtles, a reef shark, and schools of fish for hours before I even checked into my room. 


Lady Elliott Island offers three accommodation options: beach front suites with air conditioning, garden suites, and eco-tents. I opted for the eco-tent, which is a minimalist permanent tent structure with wooden floors that sleeps four. There’s a light, outlet, and fan. With a small bedside table and towels, you really have everything you’ll need for your stay. Oddly, I found it cleaner and more comfortable than the last motel I stayed at in Bundaberg. 


Though there was a roof, I was essentially sleeping in a tent and at night could hear the wind fluttering the sides and the Green Catbirds crying outside. They hide in the trees during the day and come out at night, with calls that literally sound like crying babies. After the first night, I was used the the birds and slept through everything. 

When not snorkeling or diving the island offered numerous activities from discovery and environmental walks to fish feeding and reef walks. It’s currently turtle nesting season on the island, so we were lucky to sea some turtles while snorkeling and were given tips on spotting turtles laying eggs after sunset. I’ll be honest after snorkeling all day I was in bed by 8pm. Also during the turtle update, Jenny of the activities team let us know that turtles are pretty much scared of everything on land as they spend the majority of their lives at sea, so I didn’t really want to be sneaking up on them in the night.


Having forgotten to grab my camera the first two days of snorkeling, I took one last excursion on my final day to catch a few pretty fish in action. Unfortunately, it had just stormed so the current was a little rough and apparently I lack the ability to swim and take pictures at the same time. I got a few blurry shots and a nice coral scrape up the side of my leg. But it’s alright, I got to see the Great Barrier Reef and swim with the fish and sharks. Something that doesn’t quite translate in a photo no matter how pretty it looks on the screen or paper.

Three days spent snorkeling, walking LEI, and reading on the beach without any phone or emails was perfect. Most of the time I had stopped reading and simply sat listening to the breeze and ocean while the birds flew overhead. Lady Elliot Island puts you at ease and never makes you feel that your missing out on anything back home. It really takes you back to the simple basics and lets you just breath a little lighter and be present.

Where Do You Find the Art of Melbourne… All Around

I was looking forward to seeing the infamous street art of Melbourne, but was unprepared for all the various art forms embraced by the city. In addition to the spray painted lanes of the city, there are the gardens, art galleries, and live music throughout the city. 

GARDENS

We call them parks, Australians call them gardens and the name is fitting. Parks are a plot of grass in the middle of city concrete, gardens are created by landscape artists incorporating the surrounding buildings and pedestrians into the design. 

Staying in Fitzroy, I was flanked by the Carlton Gardens and Fitzroy Gardens. Both equally beautiful in design, they made me forget I was in the fastest growing city in Australia. Walking through the Carlton Gardens with the scent of lavender around you, you’ll pass the Melbourne Museum and the Royal Exhibition Building. While the Fitzroy Gardens invites you to pick a sunny or shady spot under a tree to take a little nap or read a book.


I must say the Royal Botanic Gardens was beautiful and a quiet respite from the city. Walking trails through eucalyptus trees and the Fern Gully really puts you in another place – a jungle far away. By far, I much preferred Melbourne’s to Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens.


NGV

The National Gallery of Victoria exhibits works by renowned Australian artists, original Aboriginal pieces showing the history of Australia’s indigenous people, and international exhibits. 

My two favorite exhibits were those of Bruce Armstrong and David Hackney. Armstrong, a native of Australia, sculpts animals out of various types of wood. The pieces ranging in size from a small table top piece to life-size. 


David Hackney, an English artist, showed his landscape and portrait work utilizing an iPad and iPhone. He would utilize the iPad to finish his paintings – changing color and composition as needed. The exhibit showcased various print sizes, some spanning all four walls of a gallery room. There were also iPads and video screens showing the creation of the piece in progress. It was quite amazing seeing what an iPad can create. 


STREET ART

Melbourne is famous for the murals of its street artists. Hosier and Flinders Lanes are probably the most famous, but I also enjoyed AC/DC Lane and the Aboriginal portrait at the corner of Johnston and Fitzroy. 


The city and artists seem to embrace the tourism aspect with street art walking tours. The one night I happened upon Hosier Lane, numerous tourists and locals were walking the street taking pictures, and watching an artist in mid-painting. The guy didn’t seem to notice as if it’s a regular occurrence.

MUSIC

Melbourne prides itself as Australia’s live music capital. This week was Melbourne Music Week (MMW), with events throughout the city. Last night on my way to visit the State Library of Victoria, I happened upon a free concert in the library courtyard with food and a beer  garden. There were families, teenagers, hipsters, tourists, and businessmen all in attendance. The exhibit inside the library was the history of independent radio station Triple R. On display were pieces of old radio equipment throughout the station’s existence, videos, and memorabilia. 


MMW aside, I also saw baskers at Queen Victoria Market. They weren’t just some kids strumming on a guitar, but legitimate singers. And, there was a mutual respect between the acts. While a duo finished up their set another singer waited patiently to begin, and the guys introduced him after finishing their set. It was just nice to see artists show each other respect. 

And each night walking home I got to pop in a pub or stand outside listening to jazz music filter on to Brunswick Street. Honestly if you’re in Fitzroy, you can hear music any night of the week. 
With gardens, museums, street art, and music there is something for everyone who appreciates art and finding something beautiful in a concrete canvas. 

Dinner on the Yarra: Night Noodle Market

One of the things I most look forward to while traveling is finding delicious vegetarian food, so it was to my delight that I stumbled upon Night Noodle Market this evening.

While heading back into Melbourne CBD along the Yarra River, I noticed a bunch of people walking along Federation Wharf toward food tents. As this is Melbourne Music Week, I figured there was a concert happening. Instead of heading to get dinner at Vegie Bar as planned, I headed down to the wharf. 

Was it a concert I had stumbled upon? No…it was an Asian food market – Night Noodle Market. From the lines that wrapped around the walkways, I can only guess Melbourne’s best restaurants and food trucks showed up.




Three tent areas spread across Birrarung Mair Park with music, food, and drinks. All ages from babies to seniors walked around eating and laughing. I had vegetarian dumplings and spring rolls with sweet chili sauce and a Coopers Pale Ale. Everything was delicious, well the beer could’ve been better. It veered more toward Miller Lite than a microbrew. Though to be honest I’m not sure Coopers is a microbrewery.

As the sun set behind the city skyline, I thought this is why walking without a map rocks! 

A Rainy Weekend on the Mornington Peninsula

Initially the plan was to drive from Sydney to Melbourne and stop off  at a few coastal towns and the Mornington Peninsula, but then I remembered I don’t drive and I really don’t drive on the left side of the road. So, I opted to take the 11 hour train ride fromSydney to Melbourne and then another train and bus down to the Mornington Peninsula for a few days. It may sound like a waste of a day, but I was able to see the farmlands of Southern New South Wales and Victoria, and then the coastal towns along the Peninsula that a short airplane ride would have flown right over. And isn’t that the point of travelling – to actually see the towns and cities that make up a country?  

The bus ride down Nepean Highway along Port Phillip Bay was gorgeous. A clear day, we weaved along with the Bay peaking through trees and houses along the right. Then the bus drove up the cliff edge of Dormana and the Bay came into full view – turquoise blue with sailboats dotting the water.  It was a postcard. I was so jealous of the high school kids getting on and off the bus as they get to live here! But, at least I would get four days of coastal bliss, or so I thought. 

After that first afternoon, of 65 degrees and clear skies, it rained for the next three days. Windy and cold, there were a few breaks in the weather. I was able to walk around Sorrento – a quaint coastal town with shops, cafes, art galleries, and quirky bookshops. 

Though a little disappointed I wouldn’t get to swim with dolphins, I did get to turn it into a spa weekend and visit the popular Peninsula Hot Springs – a natural hot springs day spa. Natural mineral water flows into private baths and outdoor pools. 

I chose a relaxation massage and bathing in the Spa Dreaming Center reserved for adults with its tranquil spaces, private pools, and treatments. The outdoor pools are protected from the elements by the forest trees and a few partial coverings. Which worked out nicely as there was a little rain that afternoon.  

A little apprehensive about sharing pools with strangers, I got over that as soon as I walked through the bath garden. Built directly into the forest surroundings, there is a relaxed calm emanating around the bath pools that seems to put everyone at ease. Each pool has a specific health benefit and temperature level, so everyone can find one to suit them.  

The plan had been swimming with dolphins, but I can’t complain about the rainy day spa treatment I got instead. A laid-back relaxing weekend on the Mornington Peninsula was welcomed after hours spent on planes, trains, and buses over the past week. But I am definitely ready to head to Melbourne for some music and street art.

How to Spend Three Days in Sydney

After arriving Sunday, taking a much needed nap, and wandering around The Quay at Sydney Harbour in a jet-lagged induced haze, I decided Monday was my official first day in Sydney. wanting to see the Sculpture by the Sea exhibit before it ended, so I headed to Bondi Beach!

Day 1 – Bondi Beach

Bondi is definitely the most famous and busiest of Sydney’s beaches, it is also the start of the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk that connects seven beaches south of Sydney: Bondi, Tamarama, Bronte, Clovelly, Coogee, Maroubra, and Malabar. Hopping off the bus just at the bottom of Bondi road, the beach lays to your right and to your left the street is lined with shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars. I was just in time for the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition along the Bondi to Tamarama portion of the walk. Over 100 artists’ works are displayed along the coast walk cliff edge and on Tamarama Beach. Walking up and down the cliff you really feel as though you’re on the edge of the world. Many parts of the walk have a short fence with one piece of wood fence or no fence at all allowing you to walk right out to the edge of a cliff or down along the rocks of Mackenzie Bay.

Just past the bend around Mackenzie Bay, tiny Tamarama Beach appears. Reminiscent of a cove, this is the host of Sculpture by the Sea with pieces displayed right on the beach surrounding sunbathers. My favorite was the half-buried rhino, protruding belly up. I

Rhino buried on Tamarama Beach during Sculpture by the Sea exhibit.
Rhino buried on Tamarama Beach during Sculpture by the Sea exhibit.

stopped here to cool off and take a break in the sand. Though it was in the mid-eighties, the water was freezing and I literally could  just dip my toes in, but the surfers didn’t seem to mind.

Back to Bondi Beach, I had lunch at the eclectic cafe and bookstore Gertrude and Alice. Three rooms lined with books and interspersed with communal tables, it’s the perfect neighborhood bookshop to sit and read a bit while filling up with a fresh tasty Panini before heading back to the beach for some late afternoon sun and then on to the city.

Day 2: Photography, Shopping, and Theatre

My plan for day two was to make my way down Macquarie Street toward The Rocks for a show later that evening, and see what I found along the way. The book lover and nerd that I am, I found the State Library of New South Wales. On display In the lobby was the Nikon-Walkley Awards showcasing Photo Journalism award finalists’ works. Looking through the photos covering global and local events – riots, it was interesting to see that Australia is also facing an anti-Islamic movement and police/ indigenous racial tensions similar to the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S.

On a lighter note, the main Gallery was displaying Planting Dreams – Grand Garden Design. Garden photographers captured landscape architecture throughout the country. I’m assuming the timing was in correlation with the 200 year anniversary of the Royal Botanical Gardens.

Making my way down Macquarie, I cut through Market and traversed the Pitt Street Mall. The mall runs along Pitt and George Streets with indoor and outdoor access to stores. Nothing like a suburban American Mall it’s not like walking around Broadway in Soho with designer boutiques mixed in with retail chains.

That night, I sat front row at Speed the Plow at the Sydney Theatre Co. with Rose Burn (the gal from The Hangover and Neighbors). A David Mamet satire of Hollywood, it was pretty funny. It was the first night of previews (of course I didn’t pay attention to that on my ticket) and the director, Andrew Upton, spoke beforehand which was pretty cool.

After walking in a circle three times around The Wharf, I’m happy to say I didn’t get lost walking back to the apartment! Though I think the woman I kept passing thought I was a little nutty muttering to Google Maps.

Day 3: Gardens, Art, Books and The Rocks

I had walked along the edge of the Royal Botanical Gardens on Sunday, but didn’t see too much, so I decided to spend the morning walking to Mrs.acquarie’s Lookout. The lookout gives you a full view of the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House from the opposite side of the harbour. It was cloudy and windy, but still a pretty great view.

The gardens were beautiful too, especially the Fern Grove. Though the bugs were super annoying. I think they smelled my foreigner’s blood and were out for the kill.

I took the Bridge Street exit and headed down to The Rocks via George Street, stopping off at the Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art. There was a really interesting exhibit of Louise Hearman’s paintings. She plays with light and shadows creating these surreal dreamlike images sort of based in reality. If you look, you see people, animals, and unknowns hidden in the shadows.

Untitled, Louise Hearman. Oil on canvas
Untitled, Louise Hearman. Oil on canvas

The museum leads right into The Rocks – Sydney’s original settlement. The whole vibe of the city changes down here. First, the buildings have the old Victorian design, no skyscrapers or office buildings. Second, the pace is way more relaxed and the streets less congested. Lots of great little pubs and restaurants.

I made my way through Darling Harbour on my way to Glebe. The harbour was much smaller and came off very touristy so I passed through pretty quickly.

I did find another great little bookstore in Glebe – Sappho Books, Cafe and Wine Bar. An unassuming shop with dark wood shelves and un-matching furniture. The front room is lined with used books on pretty much anything you can think of. As you make your way back you enter the cafe, which flows out onto the garden courtyard. Plants hang over the courtyard protecting you from a light rain. It was just a really layed-back communal vibe they had going on.

I do have to mention my dinner at Bodhi – AMAZING. A vegan asian-fusion restaurant, that even a carnivore would love. The staff was super nice and were able to fit me in though they were booked. They have a great outdoor garden with fig trees and lanterns, but it was pouring rain, so missed on that. I have no idea how they prepared the Peking “duck” with hoisin sauce, cucumber, and pancakes, but I swear it tasted as close as it could to the real thing. So good!

I was able to walk almost everywhere in Sydney. Most everything was within a 30 minute walk of the apartment. I found the smaller scale of the city (compared to a New York) suprising yet welcoming.

I know this post is long, but my internet has been shoddy the past few days so I’m putting three days into one while writing on my iPhone. I’ll make it a little prettier when I get wifi to work on my computer.

 

Planes, Trains, and Opera Houses

Every time I go to the airport, I am constantly wondering what I forgot or left behind. Somewhere forty-five thousand feet in the air I realized I left behind, Saturday. As my mind tried to work around the concept of time and how we can completely skip over a day or drag one out to two, I thought “Screw it! I’m headed to Australia!” And after 5 hours on a plane to San Francisco, a thirteen hour lay-over (by the way I don’t know if Australia is going to try to kill me, but the hills of San Francisco sure did), and another fifteen hour flight, I found myself in Sydney, Australia.

After nearly being run over by a stampede of Asian tourists and their guide – I’m sure it was a sight for anyone watching to see a 5’6” ginger sticking out of the middle of that group – I found a café to sit, access my day, and have a banana. It was in this charming café in the Sydney International Airport that I realized I left a few other things behind:

  1. My itinerary – For once I actually decided to be an organized adult and had created a schedule and noted places of interest to see in each city. Apparently, this was a sign that I’m better off winging it.
  2. List of music venues – I was a bit pissed at first as one of my favorite parts of travelling is going to hear live music in new cities. Then I remembered I Googled the list, so I can remake it.
  3. USB cord – Not shocking as I don’t particularly care about technology, so it would not have been on my mind. I’ll just post photos from my phone.
  4. Comb – I suppose this doesn’t count as I rarely brush my hair at home

Since I didn’t forget my passport, I wasn’t too worried about the above. I was slightly worried when I checked my email and realized my hotel in Sorrento had canceled, but they helped me book another place so all is good.

Realizing my penchant for forgetting things will always be intact, I headed into the city. By the way, Sydney’s train system is awesome. Super easy to navigate, clean, and spacious at two levels. For someone most familiar with NYC’s metro system (which will always be my favorite), I do appreciate a clean, non-stinking city train. It only got better when I stepped out at St. James station in a beautiful park with St Mary’s Cathedral looking down on me. With people having their morning coffee, jogging, and meeting friends it reminded me of being in any city in The States. And that feeling stayed with me later in the day as I walked around the city, taking in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, part of the Royal Botanical Gardens, and walking along the Twin Ponds. And then I came around the bend and

View from The Quay of the Sydney Opera House
View from The Quay of the Sydney Opera House

caught my first glimpse of The Sydney Opera House and was reminded I’m not in Kansas anymore – I’m in Oz.

 

The Sydney Opera House is probably one of the most recognized structures in the world. I get it, it looks like a flank of sails or kites hovering over the water. The whole harbor is amazing with the shops and restaurants lining the Quay and the Sydney Bridge looming nearby. On this Sunday, it was packed, and not just with tourists. The Opera Café and Opera Bar running along the water didn’t have an open seat, filled with dressed up locals. Though it was busy, no one seemed to be in a rush to get anywhere. It was as though the water lolled us all into the present, not wanting to be anywhere else.

As I sat for dinner at a little outdoor café at a table along the water’s edge, watching the dusk settle over the harbor, and swatting pelicans from my meal, I thought what a perfect view to start a trip.